WASHINGTON — A baby formula shortage in the United States is driving parents to swap, sell and offer leftover supplies to each other, while President Joe Biden plans to speak with manufacturers and retailers Thursday about the plight facing families.
The problem is the result of supply chain disruptions and a safety recall, and has had a cascade of effects: Retailers are limiting what customers can buy, and doctors and health workers are urging parents to contact food banks or physicians’ offices, in addition to warning against watering down formula to stretch supplies or using online DIY recipes.
The shortage is weighing particularly on lower-income families after the recall by formula maker Abbott stemming from contamination concerns. That recall wiped out many brands covered by WIC, a federal program like food stamps that serves mothers, infants and children, though the program now permits brand substitutes.
Jennifer Kersey, 36 of Cheshire, Connecticut, said she was down to her last can of formula for her 7-month old son, Blake Kersey Jr., before someone saw her post on a Facebook group and came by with a few sample cans.
“At first I was starting to panic,” she said. “But, I’m a believer in the Lord, so I said, ’God, I know you’re going to provide for me and I just started reaching out to people, ‘Hey do you have this formula?’
She said she and others in the group are helping each other, finding stores which may have the formula in stock and getting formula to mothers who need it.
“If someone offers me and says, ‘I have these three,’ I’ll say ’I’ll take the purple can and then put the other ones on that website. I’m not going to hoarder stuff. I’m making sure that everybody has.”
In Washington, White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz said on Twitter that the administration will also announce “additional actions” to address the formula shortage.
Shortages of basic goods have been a problem since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. Access to medical supplies, computer chips, household appliances, autos and other goods has been hurt by closed factories and outbreaks of the virus, as well as storms and other climate-related events.
A safety recall compounded the challenges regarding baby formula.
The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on Feb. 17 to avoid some powdered baby formula products from a Sturgis, Michigan, facility run by Abbott Nutrition, which then initiated a voluntary recall. According to findings released in March by federal safety inspectors, Abbott failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at the plant.
On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with U.S. manufacturers to increase their output and streamlining paperwork to allow more imports. The agency noted that supply chain issues associated with the pandemic were part of the problem and that consumers bought more baby formula in April than in the month before the recall.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that the FDA was “working around the clock to address any possible shortages.”